Racial Disparities in Cannabis Arrests

By Adrian Devitt-Lee On May 29, 2019
Police officer writing a ticket.

The push to criminalize cannabis has always revolved around race. As legalization movements gain momentum, it is important to pay back a debt owed to those who were most harmed by the drug war. That includes expunging drug crimes and reinvesting industry profits in the minority communities targeted by police throughout the drug war. Yet in Washington state, legalization is struggling to address even the basic issue of drug arrests: racial disparities have increased since legalization. Public health experts in Oregon and Washington recently published a paper on the rate of arrests for cannabis possession in WA. The total number of arrests have gone down for everyone — which is a major improvement. But African Americans are arrested for (legally) possessing cannabis at a 5x higher rate than Whites. Before legalization, the disparity was half as large, implying that Washington law enforcement have doubled down on race-based policing, even as society moves away from the catastrophe of criminalizing drug use.

Short description: 
Adrian Devitt-Lee, Project CBD's chief science writer, is employed as a research chemist by the University College of London.